Jake Long once was considered a franchise cornerstone for the Miami Dolphins. Is that still the case?
The four-time Pro Bowl left tackle struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his fifth NFL season, and he's eligible to become a free agent in March. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Tuesday he would "love" to have Long back, but acknowledged "it's a very complex negotiation."
Ireland called this offseason difficult because he has players he "once believed in" who might no longer fit in the Dolphins' scheme. He said the roster remains in transition one year after Ireland hired coach Joe Philbin to replace Tony Sparano.
Long was an ideal fit for Sparano's scheme, especially when he was playing at a superior level. When asked if Long was still "elite," Ireland would only say, "he can still play in this league for sure." He acknowledged he wouldn't use the e-word during negotiations.
One name to keep in mind during this process is Jonathan Martin, the rookie offensive tackle who filled in admirably after Long landed on injured reserve with a triceps injury. If the Dolphins believe Martin can handle left tackle on a regular basis -- as he did in college at Stanford -- it gives them huge leverage in negotiations.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.